Scientist Discovers 9 Ways To Keep People From Sitting Next To You On Public Transportation

By Mo Mozuch on August 6, 2012 5:24 PM EDT

photo:atbreak.com
photo:atbreak.com

Personal space is a commoditized luxury. Ever heard of first-class? Leg room? Commuting humans have a need for some physical distance between themselves and those they perceive to be strangers. Esther Kim, from Yale University, just published a report using three years worth of data compiled from long-distance Greyhound bus trips. She observed the tactics people use to avoid one another, dubbing the practice "nonsocial transient behavior."

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"We live in a world of strangers, where life in public spaces feels increasingly anonymous," Kim said in a press release. "However, avoiding other people actually requires quite a lot of effort and this is especially true in confined spaces like public transport."

She discovered that there are a few basic behaviors people engage in to avoid having someone sit next to them:

1. Avoid eye contact with other people.

2. Lean against the window and stretch out your legs.

3. Place a large bag on the empty seat.

4. Sit on the aisle seat and turn on your iPod so you can pretend you can't hear people asking for the window seat.

5. Place several items on the spare seat so it's not worth the passenger's time waiting for you to move them.

6. Look out the window with a blank stare to look crazy.

7. Pretend to be asleep.

8. Put your coat on the seat to make it appear already taken.

9. If all else fails, lie and say the seat has been taken by someone else.

Kim also observed how bus passengers' behaviors change when the driver announces that the bus is going to be full, and no empty seats will be available. "The objective changes," Kim said, "from sitting alone to sitting next to a 'normal' person."

There is an egalitarian spirit among bus passengers in these situations, as race, class, gender and other character traits were not primary concerns for travelers. Instead, the goal became avoiding the "crazy person." Some admitted to trying to avoid overweight people because they are believed to sweat more, take up more space and be more likely to smell.

"Ultimately this nonsocial behavior is due to the many frustrations of sharing a small public space together for a lengthy amount of time," Kim said. "Yet this deliberate disengagement is a calculated social action, which is part of a wider culture of social isolation in public spaces."

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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